Trial and Error

The Outcry for Justice in the Dennis Dechaine Case

Alternative Suspect

There are at least several alternative suspects in the murder of Sarah Cherry. The following relates to one of them.

Accusations of Guilt of Douglas Senecal

The following are instances of accusations, both direct and implied—and two examples that may be interpreted as self-accusations—of the guilt of Douglas Senecal of the July, 1988 murder of Sarah Cherry. Some are taken from the official transcript of the July, 1992 Superior Court hearing of Dechaine’s motion for a retrial, which focused primarily on alternative suspect Senecal. Other instances are extra-judicial. Taken together they involve 17 different individuals: Sheila Appleton; Denise Brewer Whitmore; Sandra Dee Pinkham and her ex-husband Charles Campbell; Steve Senecal; Dick Woerter; Margaret Steele; Robert LaPierre; Ralph Jones; Pamela Babine; Kristin Comee; Patrick Senecal; Gerald Paradis; Amanda Highsmith; Robert Holmes; Tim Holt; and Linda Cook.

The problem of evidence being excluded as hearsay throughout the 1992 hearing thwarts much of what the defense witnesses have to say. There was no jury, so presiding Judge Bradford clearly heard much of what he then excluded, which makes his ultimate ruling against the motion for a retrial all the more puzzling and frustrating. Coupled with the State’s continuing refusal to subpoena Douglas Senecal himself, either to face charges or simply testify or to submit to DNA testing, this frustration only grows.

            Self-Accusation

According to P.I. Bill Moore’s notes (2004 or later) following a two-hour phone call with Douglas Senecal’s former wife, Maureen, when Senecal was asked by his attorney Joe Field if he had anything to do with the murder of Sarah Cherry, Senecal “sat silent for a bit. Finally, Maureen said, ‘Well, did you have anything to do with it?’ and he still sat silent and would not answer either of them.”

In a conversation in chambers (can’t find this exactly in the trial/hearing transcripts), the court was told that if Doug Senecal were called to testify, he would plead the Fifth.

            Direct Accusations by Others

Unfortunately Sheila Appleton, sister of Douglas Senecal, is deceased, but four other individuals report her having told them of her brother’s admission of guilt to Appleton; on the face of it, this appears to be double-hearsay, however….

…in the case of Denise Brewer Whitmore of Monmouth, her account—relayed by email to Carol Waltman on June 13, 2012—of Appleton telling of her brother’s admission is an “excited utterance” exception to the hearsay exclusion rule, as Appleton made it in tears and immediately after receiving it herself from Douglas Senecal.

Appleton’s knowledge of her brother’s guilt is also corroborated by Sandra Dee Pinkham, of Woolwich, in her Reader Comment posted in regard to the March 12, 2016 Maine Voices piece by Carol Waltman in the Portland Press Herald.   As of late April, 2016, Waltman and P.I. Tom Cumler had been unsuccessful in trying to meet with Pinkham, but she told Waltman over the phone that Pinkham’s ex-husband, Charles Campbell of Boothbay Harbor, was also present when Appleton told of her brother’s admission to the crime.

Dick Woerter, who provided bull semen to farmers, repeatedly told Bill Bunting of an encounter Woerter had when he sat down at a Dunkin Donuts around the time of the 1989 trial next to a woman who turned out to be Sheila Appleton. Appleton then told Woerter, crying, of her brother’s admission to the murder of Sarah Cherry. Woerter is unfortunately now deceased.

Further complicating the situation is that Appleton, on June 29, 1992, mere days before the hearing on the motion for a retrial, gave State Police Detective Steven Drake a “written statement,” which a type-written note on a copy of his log for that day—provided by the AG’s Office—indicates was forwarded to the AG’s office. A FOAA request made on May 5, 2014 seeking the statement was responded to by Deputy AG William Stokes reporting his inability to locate the document. Instead, he offered former trial attorney Eric Wright’s hypothesis that, if anything, Appleton’s statement told of her niece Jackie Crossman’s recantation of the accusation of her step-father, Douglas Senecal, for having molested her. According to Wright, Crossman says she lied about the accusation to get back at Senecal for having grounded her. But in a March 17, 2003 affidavit she told P.I. Tom Cumler that Senecal molested both her and her sister, Jessica.

In the same affidavit, Jackie Crossman told Cumler that Sarah Cherry and her sister Jessica were best friends, that Jessica confided everything in Sarah, and that Sarah spent the night numerous times with Jessica at the residence where Jessica lived with Senecal.

Attorney Tom Connolly, Dechaine’s defense lawyer at the 1992 hearing, has no recollection of having received a copy of Appleton’s written statement as he should have by the rules of discovery; if he had seen it, he says “it would have blown my mind.” Whether Appleton’s written statement had to do with either the murder of Sarah Cherry or the abuse of Jackie Crossman, one would have expected it to be presented at the 1992 hearing by the State or by the Defense.  

Steve Senecal, now-deceased brother of Douglas Senecal, alleged crazy things, which included that his brother Douglas Senecal killed Sarah Cherry, but also that Dennis Dechaine was Steve Senecal’s son.

            Implied Accusations and Witnesses to Related Circumstances

Margaret Steele, aged 73 on July 2, 1992, testified that Robert LaPierre told her of his belief that Douglas Senecal killed Sarah Cherry, though not that Senecal had admitted doing so. In his own testimony several days later, on July 9, 1992, Robert LaPierre denied having made any such accusation. LaPierre may have feared violent retribution from Senecal if he repeated in court what Steele alleged.

Ralph Jones – his testimony on July 8, 1992, tells of recognizing the voice of Douglas Senecal (though he did not actually see him) when the latter stopped a truck near Jones’s residence on the Dead River Road near the crime scene in Bowdoin on July 6, 1988, the day of the abduction, with another man and a young girl evidently in the truck with him. Jones testified that Senecal’s voice sounded angry and the girl either laughing or crying. It also appears that law enforcement did not follow up adequately on this lead in terms of either the truck itself, three of its license plate numbers noted by Jones, or its tire tracks.

Pamela Babine - her testimony on July 8, 1992 accuses Douglas Senecal, her Phippsburg landlord and next-door neighbor, of having threatened her by parking in her driveway for over an hour on the day of but before the actual time of the crime. Her fearful reaction to that and to a conversation she had with him two days later (the content of which was barred as evidence) was so extreme that she moved out of state.

Kristin Comee – for whose child, Carl, Douglas Senecal was a godfather, sometimes engaged Senecal’s stepdaughters Jessica and Jackie Crossman to babysit. On July 6, 1988, Maureen Senecal, wife of Douglas Senecal, came to pick up her babysitting daughter Jessica at Comee’s, and when she told her that Sarah Cherry was missing, Jessica became emotionally very wrought up, although the actual content of what the two of them said was ruled inadmissible as hearsay and thus was not articulated.

Patrick Senecal, uncle of Douglas Senecal, on the stand on July 9, 1992, was prevented by Judge Bradford from being asked about what attorney Thomas Connolly explained in a sidebar conversation between the judge, State’s attorney Eric Wright and Connolly was Patrick’s fear of his nephew Douglas’s phoned threat to Patrick’s young daughter Brenda if Patrick testified against Douglas. Connolly attempted to argue for a “statement against interest” exception to the hearsay exclusion rule, but Bradford ruled against this and thus prevented Patrick from being asked directly about Douglas’s threat.

Five individuals claim to have seen scratches on Doug Senecal’s face at the time of the murder. In his testimony during the July, 1992 hearing on Dechaine’s motion for a retrial, Gerald Paradis said he saw scratches on both the face and the chest of Senecal. In a March 7, 2005 email Amanda Highsmith, daughter of Doug Senecal’s uncle Patrick Senecal, tells Lori Dumont “Doug had scratches on his face when Sarah Cherry disappeared and brag [sic] to my uncle about how and where and said they would never be able to link it back to him.” Robert Holmes (in a “Telcal” to Jim Moore?), of Bath, “saw Mr. Senecal two days after the murder and ‘his face was all ripped up.’” On the same note, assumedly also by Jim Moore, Holmes’s friend and neighbor Tim Holt is also mentioned: “also saw Senecal at about the same time and recalls the deep scratches on his face.” On a 2/26/98 “Memo to the file” (Jim Moore again?), Linda Cook, also of Bath and who worked with Doug Senecal, said that, at the time of Sarah Cherry’s disappearance and death, he showed up at work with scratches on him and had lost his glasses. Cook says that she went to the sheriff but was told they had it under control and that it was none of her business.

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